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Seasonless Style

February 16, 2012

Catherine Salfino

Consumers are shopping more shrewdly than ever.  They cross-check products and pricing before they head to stores, and arrive armed with smartphones as backup.  They want products that wear well and are on trend for as long as possible.  So advances the concept of “seasonless dressing.”

Dillard’s Jerry Talamantes, spokesperson, says shoppers are looking for something that travels well for business or pleasure, that can be easily dressed up and is comfortable most anywhere.

“Those are key elements that lead the shopper to think, ‘Well, gosh, am I going to get it or not?” says Talamantes. “I can wear it 11 months out of the year. And it is a color I can work with something else.’  It has to do with functionality and the idea that she made a smart purchase — and that resonates more than anything.”

Although retailers usually roll out product long before consumers can or will use them (i.e., wool coats in August), more than two-thirds of women (69%) buy their latest apparel styles on sale at the end of the season, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle MonitorTM Survey.

Women ages 25-to-70 are significantly more likely than women 13-24 to buy on sale at the end of the season (73% versus 58%).  On the other hand, women making $75,000 or more per year are less likely than women making less per year to wait to buy (66% versus 71%), the Monitor survey finds.

At Seattle-based Mario’s, Erin Jones, women’s manager, says there has been a steady rise in seasonless dressing.  “This seems to be driven by street style, collection trends and, of course, budget.”

Less than three out of 10 (29%) of women are “very or somewhat optimistic” about the U.S. economy, down significantly from 36% last year.  And more than eight out of 10 women (82%) are “very or somewhat concerned” about a reduction in their annual household income, according to Monitor data.

Currently, women make up almost 47% of the American work force, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.  In 2010, women accounted for nearly half of all business travelers, up from 43% in 2003 and approximately 25% in 1991—and that compares to less than 5% just 40 years ago, according to the Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Quarterly and the U.S. Travel Association.  Therefore, long-wearing apparel that works in different settings and climates may be becoming more important to female buyers.

Mario’s Jones says that while travel figures into the seasonless trend, “On the whole, women seem to be making fashion-economic decisions.  They are buying beautiful, well-made pieces that will last over time, and supplementing with directional pieces each season.”

On average, women expect their suits and outwear o last about six years, their sweaters, dress pants, jeans, dress shirts, and casual pants to last four years, and their t-shirts to last about three years, the Monitor  survey finds.

While some may think of seasonless dressing as wearing white after Labor Day or wearing no hosiery in January, the notion goes far beyond that.

Barney’s Simon Doonan wryly remarks, “We live in the era of Lady Gaga. Seasonless dressing is wearing a fur coat with a bikini underneath.”


But the reality of seasonless merchandising is multi-faceted.  “The old system of stodgy fall clothes and floaty summer chiffons is too limiting,” Doonan says.  “Women today are looking for more eccentricity and self-expression.”

One approach to seasonless dressing is through layering.

“Layering allows you to wear the items that you want,” Doonan says.  “You can wear a gypsy blouse to the Arctic. You just need a puffer coat to throw over it.”

Another layering approach is Lord & Taylor’s “3-in-1” top from Calvin Klein that features a printed top over a tank that’s sequined at the hem.  The pieces can be worn separately or together.   And they can be paired with one of the season’s shrugs, scarves or cardigans.

Seasonless also means fabrics that work year-round. Cotton alone works with the seasonless blueprint via wardrobe staples like the perfect white shirt, trousers, knit tops, sweaters and denim.

“A woman should probably always have some updated denim in her closet,” Jones advises, adding they should be sure to watch for new color and shape trends.  Other key items include, “a beautiful white shirt, a core colored dress that can go almost anywhere — and an updated pump.”

Dillard’s Talamantes says retailers will give greater play to fabrics and textiles that are seasonless in nature.

“Fabrics that are ‘part of the season’ have a limited life on the selling floor.  So, while stores will pepper their inventory with something everybody loves, like a double-faced heavy-weight jacket, key items are needed for the seasonless presentation,” he says.  “The focus on seasonless today stems from idea of functionality. Consumers want to feel they made a smart purchase.”